Archive for the ‘development’ Category

Why sever connections?

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Protecting current accessibility while creating more and better connections is the challenge currently faced by the winning design team of Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates (MVVA). A primary mission of the effort to re-imagine the Arch grounds, and its surroundings, is to better connect the city to the Arch and riverfront. This is best accomplished by keeping the downtown street grid intact, and reconnecting it where connections have been broken.

The barrier presented to the downtown St. Louis pedestrian, driver, or bicyclist is the unpredictability of the current street grid. One-way streets, interruptions by I-70 (and other interstates,) and closed streets all create a less predictable, less inviting experience. City streets serve to connect. Storefronts, cafes, sidewalks and trees serve as attractors of pedestrian activity.  Every change from a basic grid makes it less functional, and more of an impediment to those who use it.

Now, it appears possible that the new design for the Arch grounds may remove no less than three current downtown streets, further severing connections between the City, Arch, and River. It has yet to be explained how fewer, less-predictable connections effectively weave these three elements together.

MVVA’s winning design proposes closing Lenor K. Sullivan Boulevard along the levee for the length of the Arch grounds. It also proposes closing Washington Avenue adjacent to the Eads Bridge, and now competition organizers are suggesting that Memorial Drive may be closed, an idea that MVVA did not propose.

The removal of three downtown streets represents a significant step backwards in the development of downtown. The solution to connectivity, additional real-estate development, and a more livable, attractive, and sustainable city is the introduction of more connections, more connected downtown streets, and a return to a connected street grid.

Currently, Lenor K. Sullivan Boulevard provides a north-south connection that allows visitors to avoid the unfriendly and confusing tangle of Memorial Drive and I-70. Its closure would place additional traffic on Memorial Drive. The closure of Washington Avenue would remove the last east-west connection that reaches our river for miles to the north and south. It would truncate the heart of downtown’s most vibrant district, introducing a new and unexpected barrier.  Finally, it would sever the historic, and spiritual link from east to west. While the Arch symbolizes the gateway to the West, the Eads Bridge and Washington Avenue served, and continue to serve, as the physical manifestation of that gateway.

The closure of Memorial Drive at the Gateway Mall would introduce the most significant, disruptive and negative result of the three. A traffic-free connection between Luther Ely Smith Square and the Arch grounds provides a dubious benefit to pedestrians while introducing a major barrier to vehicles.  Urban spaces with equal access for all forms of traffic, vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian, are the most healthy, organic, and vibrant.  Experience has shown that segregating these forms of traffic into their own spheres promotes decay, and ultimately provides a disincentive for investment and development.

Closing Memorial Drive has been studied, and its impact is generally understood. However, alternatives have not been studied. The impact of returning downtown streets to two-way traffic, the potential to reconnect streets, the reorganization of confusing intersections, and the removal of the I-70 trench and elevated lanes have not been considered. Only a comprehensive understanding of all issues and options at hand should inform decisions. To this end, City to River continues to advocate for a comprehensive transportation study of downtown and the I-70 corridor, before any binding decisions are made regarding street closures.

Predictability and accommodation are the best attributes for encouraging pedestrian activity. The closure of Memorial Drive may provide a dedicated pedestrian space, but it introduces other problems. To encourage visitors to explore the Arch grounds and downtown St. Louis, connections should be many and similar. The removal of I-70 and its replacement with an urban boulevard accomplishes this by providing predictable, accommodating pedestrian and vehicle access throughout the entire length of the Arch grounds and further north.

The closure of Memorial Drive creates barriers. Drivers must negotiate four 90-degree turns, additional stop lights, and several blocks to simply drive north-south. All traffic wishing to use Memorial Drive is diverted onto Market, 4th and Chestnut streets.  Severely disrupting vehicular connectivity to allow pedestrians to cross one street makes little sense when any pedestrian visiting the Arch will have to cross one or more of these other streets in any event. A visitor walking the Gateway Mall from Union Station to the Arch will cross 14 city streets. Will the prospect of crossing a 15th prevent visitors from reaching the Arch?

One MVVA idea lauded by the competition jury was the placing of remote ticketing kiosks around downtown. This would allow visitors to purchase a tram ticket and spend any time waiting to explore downtown, get a bite to eat and do some shopping. Obviously, this would require crossing many downtown streets. Crossing streets is not something that can, or should, be avoided in downtown St. Louis, or any urban environment.  While City to River advocates for a better pedestrian experience, the elimination of downtown streets is an old and failed idea. The introduction of new barriers can and should be avoided in downtown St. Louis.

In many respects, MVVA has created an exciting and compelling vision for the future of the Arch grounds and downtown St. Louis.  In our view, though, refining of the team’s plan for street connections is necessary.  In fewer than 90 days, the MVVA winning design plan will be converted into a more final construction plan. City to River continues to focus on creating more and better connections between our City, Arch, and River.  We look forward to working with those considering how best to accomplish those connections.

New boulevard creates great development opportunities and increased revenues for the city

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Over the last decade Downtown St. Louis has seen $4.5 billion invested in a diverse range of projects including the new Busch Stadium, Lumiere Place and over 100 historic renovations. Mixed-use redevelopment has brought new life and vibrancy to the Washington Avenue Loft District and Old Post Office District. This vibrancy will continue to spread when the Mercantile Exchange District opens in a few years.

The creation of the new Memorial Drive and removal of the former Interstate 70 will eliminate the last obstacle to redevelopment along the riverfront. The momentum generated by the redevelopment of the Central Business District will then be free to expand eastward. This would complete the vision of St. Louis civic leader Luther Ely Smith, who over 75 years ago looked at the tired and worn 19th century riverfront and saw the opportunity for renewal. The new Memorial Drive will bring people back to the once bustling riverfront that spawned our now far-reaching metropolis.

Since the early 20th century, attempts have been made to revitalize the historic core of St. Louis. These attempts have included the demolition of aging historic riverfront buildings and the creation of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the first urban national park outside of Washington, D.C. Unfortunately these attempts were undermined by the passage of Interstate 70 through downtown St. Louis. During the 1960s, new developments across from the Arch were designed to face westward, turning their backs on the new national monument. Additionally, the barrier created by the interstate hampered development to the north and south of the Arch. Much of this property remains vacant over 40 years later.

New development opportunities created by the new boulevard

The City to River proposal to remove the now aging highway infrastructure that divorced Downtown from the riverfront and to create a new pedestrian friendly boulevard is the key to attracting redevelopment of both vacant and underutilized properties surrounding the Arch. Additionally, properties that now face away from the Arch will have the opportunity to create new grand entrances fronting the boulevard and our beautiful national monument. According to a recent study conducted by Development Strategies, removal of the former Interstate 70 and its replacement with the new Memorial Drive creates up to 500,000 square feet of new developable land. This includes land facing the Arch as well as land adjacent to the boulevard reclaimed from highway right-of-way. The newly available property will support the creation of nearly $1.2 billion in additional real estate market value over the next 20-25 years. Such an opportunity for new development simply cannot happen with the existing configuration of I-70, nor would this need truly be met by the old lid proposal. The greatest potential for development lies in the areas along the elevated sections of I-70. This massive infusion of ideally located new development property presents the greatest opportunity for economic revival that St. Louis has seen in decades.

Below is a breakdown of the potential value of new development adjacent to the boulevard. These figures do not include the increase in value of properties more than a few blocks away, such as the Ballpark Village site, or existing buildings currently adjacent to the Arch.

Chouteau’s Landing District $133,000,000
Broadway and Spruce Lot developed $126,000,000
New Parcels facing Memorial & the Arch $69,000,000
Surface lots on Broadway near Convention Center $21,000,000
New Parcels east of Jones Dome $22,000,000
Laclede’s Landing Parcels @ Eads Bridge $107,000,000
North Riverfront fronting Memorial $136,000,000
Bottle District & off boulevard North Riverfront $543,000,000

Total Real Estate Value $1,156,000,000

The Great Reconnection

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Author: Nate Forst of EcoUrban

The key is that the city must find an inspirational vision for itself rooted in what it is and its own essential character. A great city, like a great wine, has to express its terroir.
–Aaron Renn, The Urbanophile

Perhaps the Hardest Part Has Been Accomplished

Old Post Office Plaza

It is a tired story most of us would prefer not to hear again: Over the past half-century plus, the city of St. Louis has literally lost significantly more population than currently resides within city limits. From a peak of nearly 860,000 residents in 1950, the city shrunk to a low of roughly 350,000 in 2000. During this period the city systematically attempted to destroy its past. Through large scale demolition of historic structures, construction of roads and highways specifically engineered to divide communities, and damaging urban renewal policies, the region was nearly successful in doing so.

Fast-forward to 2010 and much has changed. As many of the remaining commercial buildings from St. Louis’ gilded age were converted into lofts, a once-dead downtown core has been revitalized, drawing many back to the city. As of last summer, downtown now has an excellent grocery and world-class public art. And, for the first time in 60 years, St. Louis saw its first growth, estimated in 2008.

There is now significant energy being devoted towards reconnecting downtown to our region’s most impressive natural amenity, via out area’s most iconic monument. The City+Arch+River 2015 design competition comes at a pivotal time. If the reconnection between downtown and the riverfront is properly completed, there is every reason to believe the positive results could be even more profound than the project’s most ardent supporters realize.

Currently, a group of concerned citizens, calling themselves City to River, is committed to realizing that the dream of a reconnected St. Louis be achieved to the highest capacity. Their main goal is to see the disruptive section of highway 70 that severs our community from its original settlement be removed. When citizens’ initiatives engage the public process in a focused way like this, great things happen. City to River deserves your most ardent support to achieve this Great Reconnection.

With the larger machinations heading in a positive direction, what else can we do to aid the momentum and foster the Great Reconnection?  One thing is clear: after years of removal, neglect and whitewashing, downtown currently lacks an identity.  And as the city will be reconnected to the river, the city must also be reconnected to its origins as a confluence of ideas, culture and civilization. Simply put, we must spotlight the heritage of this grand old Mississippi River Town while moving downtown forward as a unique, walkable, city village –a place with a distinct character like nowhere else in the area. Of course, we can be content to leave it to the region’s elites and entrenched developers. They will be more than happy to create a stale collage of chain restaurants and soulless redevelopment characteristic of Anytown, USA.

The past is not dead.  In fact, it’s not even past.
– William Faulkner

St. Louis, because of its rich history and dense, old world-esque street grid, deserves much more. We believe this can be accomplished by developing a mix of heritage destinations supported by urban village amenities. Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling: (more…)